Japan: Tourism Troubles
Of course there are a lot of wonderful things to do and see. Possible troubles would usually be laughed off, a smile will save the day. There is an old saying, "When you embark on a journey, you will have a story to tell..."
Except, Japan is not prepared for this level of foreign interest in its culture or favourite places. In my column, I wonder why there is no place for redress or complaints, as more tourists will increasingly be encountering difficulties or disappointments. That's only natural, it happens at all popular destinations. But here, hotel staff often don't speak English, taxi drivers are an elderly bunch with a slow learning curve (most can hardly operate the GPS or Navi installed but also carry no book maps...) and few restaurants have menus in foreign languages.
I was shocked last fall when visiting Kyoto, and saw the crowds at popular places like Kiyomizu Temple. If a fire broke out, or if someone fell ill and needed an ambulance, there would be absolutely no way for rescue services to arrive. Many walking paths are also open to cars, making for close encounters with vehicles and pedestrians. Kyoto, in my opinion, has already reached the limit...
And even here in Tokyo, a JR station like Nippori, that has a direct link to Narita, still has no English train map. How is a freshly arrived tourist going to know how to take the trains, or what to pay? Come on, at least the nation's capital's Yamanote Line stations ought to be bi- or trilingual!?
Speaking of trains, why not provide more useful information about this country's amazing baggage delivery system? Takkyubin means you don't have to struggle with your heavy suitcase(s) anymore. Ship them! But most hotels provide no information about this useful service. Thus, you get tourists boarding the Shinkansen and other transportation, only to discover that there is no space for large luggage.
With over 5 million visitors last year from Taiwan and China, you would imagine that more places would care to hire Chinese-speaking staff. And we all know that even English is taught not for fluency but for passing tests. This means hurdles that Japan has failed to figure out ways to overcome.
What to do if your hotel room reeks of cigarette smoke? Do complain. Be polite (of course) but firmly demand a smoke-free room. If the hotel doesn't provide it, or is fully booked, and if you can show evidence that you actually asked for it when making your reservation, do ask to speak to the manager. And if that doesn't work, how about contacting the Japanese National Tourist Organization (JNTO). Currently, they don't have any services to help tourists in trouble. I think this is a consumer issue, and they need to start thinking hard about how to provide services when things go wrong.
Nippori station map from the cool type n travel blog!
Top image of a smoking hot volcano, from the JNTO website, of Sakurajima in Kagoshima.